Trial, Crucifixion, Death

From Pastor Zach’s Holy Week Devotional

Day Six: Trial, Crucifixion, Death

Matthew 27:1-62, Mark 15:1-47, Luke 22:63-23:56, John 18:28-19:37

Good Friday is the most horrific day of the Passion Week of Christ. It is the final hours of Christ’s life. We find Christ in the early morning hours praying on the Mount of Olives. His disciples are with Him but are easily led to sleep. The anguish and agony of Jesus’ heart and soul are displayed as He begins sweating blood. Yet, being in agony He prayed more earnestly (Luke 22:44). He did not give up. He did not stop. He did not give in to the agony of His heart. He knew what was coming. He understood the brutality and hatred that was to be unleashed on Him. Yet, He prayed more earnestly!

Around 9 a.m. Jesus endured false accusations, condemnation, judgment, mockery, beatings, loneliness, and abandonment. His own disciple betrayed Him and then killed himself. His followers were demanding His execution. His disciples were betraying him and in hiding. He was sentenced to death while a known criminal was released. His punishment would be one of the worst capital punishments known at the time.

Soldiers spit on Him and mocked Him. They thrust a crown made of long thorns into His head. They made Jesus carry His own cross to Golgotha where He would be insulted, mocked, and nailed to this cross. The cross was then lifted into the air and dropped into a hole, causing the nailed arms and feet to tear and bring even more excruciating pain to Jesus. His back that was raw and torn from beatings with a leather whip formed with glass and rocks in it was now writhing against bare wood, nails in His hands and feet, a crown of thorns on His head, and hanging naked on display for the world to see.

Jesus spoke seven final statements from the cross.

  1. Jesus said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said the disciple, “Behold, your mother! (John 19:26-27, ESV
  2. Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? That is, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46, ESV)
  3. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34, NIV)
  4. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43, ESV)
  5. I thirst. (John 19:28, ESV)
  6. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! (Luke 23:46, ESV)
  7. It is finished (John 19:30, ESV)

At about 3 p.m. Jesus breathed His last on the cross. By 6 p.m. Friday evening, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross and placed it in a garden tomb.

Passover & Last Supper

From Pastor Zach’s Holy Week Devotional

Matthew 26:17-75, Mark 14:12-72, Luke 22:7-62, John 13:1-38

On Thursday, things continue with a more somber feel. From Bethany, Jesus sent Peter and John ahead to prepare the Upper Room in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. That evening after sunset, Jesus and the disciples went to the Upper Room. The evening began with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus demonstrated the humility that every believer should have towards one another. Christ was willing to wash the feet of His followers, and we also should be willing to humble ourselves and serve one another. How might we this Passover week humble ourselves and outdo one another with brotherly love (Romans 12:10)? All the while the chief priests and scribes are looking for ways to put Jesus to death (Luke 22:1).

And he (Jesus) said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:15-20, ESV).

Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper or communion as a part of this meal. As the New Testament church continued, this remembrance celebration continued weekly for the early church, as they celebrated the Lord’s death, resurrection, and His soon return together. Jesus took what was known as the “Cup of Joy” during the Seder feast, and said this is the cup that is being poured out for you. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2)! Jesus willingly laid down His life that I might drink from the wells of salvation with joy (Isaiah 12:3).

Today, there is an eternal supply of joyful drink in His presence. In His presence there are eternal joys and pleasures. Today, you determine which cup you will drink from. Will you drink your full from sadness and sorrows of this fading life? Or, will you drink the joyful drink of God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).

Although the week took a more somber turn, and the reality of Christ’s death was becoming more clear for His followers, today our week takes a joyful reality in knowing that Christ has overcome this world and given us a joy that no one or no thing can take away (John 16:33).

Jesus’ Ministry

From Pastor Zach’s Holy Week Devotional.

Matthew 21:23-24:51, Mark 11:20-13:37, Luke 20:1-21:38, John 12:20-38

Jesus’ ministry continued the Passover week in the temple teaching and spending time at the Mount of Olives. We know that Jesus also spent His evenings with his friends in Bethany.

One evening while Jesus was eating at the house of Simon the leper, a woman approached Him. Before we continue with the story, it is interesting to note where Jesus was and who He was sitting with—a leper. Lepers were not allowed around the general population, and yet, we find Simon and Jesus spending time together. Jesus had healed this man’s leprosy.

This woman came to Jesus and brought her alabaster jar of expensive ointment, costing nearly a year’s wages, and she lavishly poured the perfume on Jesus while He reclined at the table. This was a dramatic scene of love and honor, and to many would have seemed inappropriate. In fact, even some of the disciples started interrupting the passionate display, saying the ointment should have been sold and the money used for ministry purposes.

Then Jesus says something absolutely shocking: For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial (Matthew 26:11-12, ESV).

This was shocking because the conquering king was now preparing for death and not a victory. Shocking because He has allowed this woman to continue. Shocking because the ministry many had given their careers and families to pursue was ending. Shocking because this was supposed to be the time to overtake the Roman empire, not succumb to defeat and death.

Judas had had enough. The heart of the betrayer is always revealed when passionate worship disturbs it. Are you willing to pour out your most precious, most expensive, most valuable upon the Lord? Maybe the sacrifice is your career, your family, your possessions…are you willing to lay them upon the Lord as a testimony to His burial and resurrection. What you lay at His feet in preparation for burial, will always live again through His resurrection power. What this woman did has been a testimony and will continue to be a testimony for us all to worship more fully.

We have a sign in our prayer room that says, “Worship like it’s your last earthly worship.” What would happen if we lived with the motto of this woman and to worship like it is the last chance on this earth before you step into eternal worship. There is an experience on this side of Heaven in worshipping the Lord that you can only experience here–the moment when you press through the veil of your own flesh and enter boldly into the holy place in this life. Once you step into eternity, worship will be sweet, but it will be different than the sacrifice of praise you offer in this life. Pour out your costly perfume of praise upon the Lord today!

The Mount of Olives

Taken from my Holy Week Devotional.

Matthew 21:23-24:51, Mark 11:20-13:37, Luke 20:1-21:38, John 12:20-38

Jesus and His disciples spent their days teaching and ministering in the temple during Passover week, and their evenings at the Mount of Olives. Scripture is filled with teaching during this week: paying taxes to Caesar, the resurrection, signs of the end of the ages, the widow’s offering, the coming of the Son of Man, and many more teachings.

That morning, back at the temple, the religious leaders were furious. They were upset about Christ’s teaching. They were upset about the crowds being healed and ministered to. Now they wanted to know why and by what authority Jesus was operating. Their intent was to trick Jesus and arrest Him.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean (Matthew 23:23-26, ESV).

In Matthew 23, Jesus issued seven woes to the religious leaders. He told the people the religious leaders are doing their deeds to be seen by others (Matthew 23:5). It was confrontational. It was revolutionary. Christ was setting the record straight and liberating His people from religious bondage. It was during these teachings and Jesus’ ministry that Judas Iscariot began negotiating with the Sanhedrin for Jesus’ arrest.

The message of the cross is confrontational. Christ’s message during the Passover week challenged His hearers. The religious crowd was confronted, and the broken and infirmed were healed and made whole. Even one of Jesus’ closest began plotting to betray Him. Jesus taught that if we are to follow Him, we must take up our own cross (Matthew 16:24). Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, but we also will deny our flesh, sacrificing it on an altar of worship to follow faithfully after Him (Romans 12:1).

As you read through Christ’s teachings from the Passover week, take time to reflect on what He is speaking to you this week. The signs of Christ’s return are all around us. Let us diligently prepare the altar of our own sacrifice and look up with great anticipation, for He is coming again!

A Year of Great Joy

Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! (Luke 2:10, TPT)

Most would probably agree the world in 2020 has not been full of “joyous news.” The daily news is full of scandals, global pandemic, devision, hate, crime–do I need to continue? Death is all around us. Many have been furloughed or lost employment. Even as I write I think about the many stories we have heard this year as we have distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of groceries throughout our region. I can hear the kids screaming for joy when they got their food because they knew they had groceries for a while longer.

Thinking about our present circumstances, I also consider the times of Jesus’ birth. There was political upheaval, everyone busy about fulfilling government mandates, and the government-ordered murder of two-year-old and younger boys. Herod the Great was a paranoid leader, even killing some of his own family because of “treason.” Joseph and Mary even fled to Egypt to escape the treacherous times.

To borrow the quote from Charles Dickens, “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” In the midst of great darkness, a light was shining (Isa 9:2). It was not necessarily a light shining from the manger, glowing around the baby–but a spiritual light. The one who spoke, “Let there be light,” in Genesis, was now the Light of the World (John 8:12). The baby lying in an animal watering trough was the River of Living Water (John 7:37-38). In the barn where animals ate was Christ, the Bread of Life (John 6:35). In the pastures lay the Great Shepherd (John 10:11, Psalm 23).

Jesus was not the “joyful news” everyone was looking for. They wanted a ruler, someone to stop the madness of the time, and all they got was a baby. What would an insignificant, innocent, powerless baby do for their desperate situation?

In the midst of this year, full of its disappointments and hurdles, Jesus has still been speaking. He’s not a baby in a manger any more. He’s seated on the throne of glory, ruling all things by the word of His power (Her 1:3), over every principality and power (Eph 1:21). To those who receive Him, find joy and rest in the midst of storms of life. He captivates the attention of those who look upon Him with humility. He is the desire of those who see His goodness. Though life’s storms continue to tumult, with Him I can find rest and peace on the storm-tossed boat. Can you hear the whisper of His voice in the midst of the storm? “Peace.”

As I think about this year and how I have seen Christ in the insignificant, simple, ordinary places, I am reminded of how He came at His birth. It was simple, ordinary, even insignificant to the usual onlooker, but to those who came and worshipped He was the King of kings and Lord of lords. So in Christ I find 2020 to be a year of great triumph and great victory. I see the lives that were changed and affected by the Gospel ministry. I see the Christ-followers around me that have allowed their roots in Christ and their roots in the church go deeper in the foundation of His Word. I see the supernatural provision of God that has enabled us to continue to minister and serve our community through tangible compassion and virtual ministry. I see the reports of healing, deliverance, encouragement, breakthrough, provision, and so much more throughout our church family and community that have been a part this year’s ministry.

Lastly, I look at how God’s providence has kept me every step of this year, and I look to 2021 knowing “though Satan should buffet, though trials should come; let this blest assurance control. That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed His own blood for my soul.” Knowing that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

My friend, Christ is JOY in every season of life. He is not just an idea or trend of joy. He’s not the Hallmark greeting card idea of joy. Christ is JOY! I have good news for you today. To you and to me has been born the Savior. He is the news. He is the joy! And He can be YOUR JOY as we leave 2020 and move into 2021.

Have a Joy-Filled Christmas and a New Year!

God is in Control

…who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…
Hebrews 1:3, NKJV

Life is always full of surprises. No one would have planned this year to go the direction it did. Indicators may have suggested certain predictions. Scientists may have theorized. But no one knew what really would transpire, except God. In the midst of life’s difficulties, the anchor of our soul is the hope we have in God (Hebrews 6:19). Not only does He know, He’s in control. Not only is He in control, but He’s working all things for His glory. God’s eternal plan of the ages is being carried out, in triumph, and even in adversity.

Truly, God is in heaven and He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3, NKJV). Our human response to verses like this are often fear, anxiety, and confusion over a possible vengeful, tyrannical God. We must remember, though, our God is constrained by His own nature. He is not like man. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through” (Numbers 23:19, NLT). He is holy and operates like no other ruler. He is love and is motivated in compassion. Yet God is just and requires justice for sin. God who is both love and justice acted the plan of the ages through Christ’s redemption. It was the only plan that would work—because Jesus was sinless, but also because God came to humanity, became a human and became both the just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). What an incredible display of how God rules all things!

In the end of all things, God’s plan of redemption will remain. Justice will be brought to the devil and his actors. Heaven will rejoice and hell will know His judgment. Jesus will reign forever as King to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s consider some of the horrible atrocities in Scripture and how God demonstrated His control and worked all things for His glory.

We can go all the way back to the fall of man. God was still reigning supreme and yet had given dominion to man in the earth. Man sinned and consequences for sin became evident. In the midst of depravity, we find God’s promise for redemption through a human savior in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (NKJV).

The Israelites were enslaved for 400 years under the Egyptians–abuse, neglect, murder, hardship. Generation after generation were caught in this cycle under earthly rulers manipulated by demonic schemes and selfish ambition. Yet God remained in control and used the story of hatred and slavery for His glory and the blessing of a nation.

Esther was faced with an ancient holocaust. God had moved her into a position of influence in the king’s court. Mordecai recognized the sovereignty of God in the midst of the horrible situation. “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NKJV). God’s plan was for deliverance, and He would use a willing person to bring about His plan.

Even in Jesus’ death and resurrection we find that God allowed the very things He abhorred in order for the eternal plan of the ages to be carried out. He gave His only son to be betrayed, brutally beaten, mocked, and murdered in one of the most horrific deaths imaginable. “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18, NLT). Some would say that Jesus’ death was only the work of the devil’s scheme acted out through human players. True the devil was at work. We see this demonstrated in Luke 22:3 when Judas was manipulated by the devil to betray Jesus. Yet in all of it, God was still in control. The plan of redemption was being carried out. No one could take Jesus’ life unless the Father commanded. The devil and human actors in their pride could only see as far as the end of their noses so to speak. They only saw what was happening in front of them and how their plans to murder the savior were being carried out. Even the disciples hid in fear because their conquering king was being killed. But to those with spiritual eyes, there was more happening than just a crucifixion. The blood that was being poured out was the blood to cleanse sinners clean.

Right now, there’s more than meets the eye happening in the world around us. Creation is crying out with birth pangs (Romans 8:22). The revelation of our adoption is at hand. The signs of the coming destruction in Matthew 24 are being acted out in our day. Jesus, thousands of years ago, prophesied about what would be taking place in our time. He knows, and He is in control. That’s why He tells us in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near (NKJV).”

What lesson can we learn from the accounts throughout the ages? What work of God is being completed in us as we yield to His control?

  1. Practice humility

“Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil” (Andrew Murray).

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble” (Andrew Murray).

Humility recognizes that Jesus is the Lord, and I am His redeemed. Humility keeps the proper perspective of Christ glorified, and self crucified. A humble life is a pliable life in the Master Potter’s hands. A prideful life becomes a lump of clay unmoldable only fit for the trash.

James 4:10, NKJV: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Proverbs 22:4, ESV: The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.


  1. Be About the Father’s Business

The work of faith in your life are works that glorify the Lord (James 2:17). Salvation’s work is a worshipful display of God’s beauty through good works in your life (Ephesians 2:8-10). While the Master tarries in His return, let us keep watch and preparing for His return (Mark 13:35-37).

“A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart” (Charles Finney).

“Revival comes from heaven when heroic souls enter the conflict determined to win or die-or if need be, to win and die! ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force’” (Charles Finney).


  1. Stay in Communion

Fellowship with God ensures you are walking with Him. Like an obedient sheep, we are led by His voice (John 10:27). When walking with our Great Shepherd we are not led astray by cunning and crafty deception. He is the overseer of our lives (1 Peter 2:25). His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

“Each time you intercede, be quiet first and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, of how He delights to hear Christ, of your place in Christ, and expect great things” (Andrew Murray).

“Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue; God’s voice is its most essential part. Listening to God’s voice is the secret of the assurance that He will listen to mine” (Andrew Murray).


  1. Stay in Community

The expression of Christ’s body in the earth is the local church. We were made for community. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, NKJV). And in this body we are to support one another (Galatians 6:2) and spur each other on to good works (Hebrews 10:24). In this body we are given gifts of ministers to edify and equip us into maturity, into a unified body (Ephesians 4:11-16).

“If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. …How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The Pursuit of God

My soul follows hard after You; Your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:8

The things we value, the things we are passionate about become our pursuit. Psalms 63, we find the essence of our pursuit of God. The meaning of “follows hard after” in the Hebrew is to cling to or take hold of. We lay hold of God in our passionate pursuit of Him.

Philippians 3:9, The Passion Translation, Paul writes:
My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own “righteousness” based in keeping the written Law. My “righteousness” will be his, based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—the very righteousness that comes from God.

Paul teaches us in Philippians 3 why it is important to follow hard after God:

  1. We follow hard after God to Know Him

Philippians 3:7-8, The Passion Translation
Yet all of the accomplishments that I once took credit for, I’ve now forsaken them and I regard it all as nothing compared to the delight of experiencing Jesus Christ as my Lord! To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that his prayer was for them to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:17-19). There is a difference between having an understanding that God is good and experiencing His goodness in present reality. Hosea writes about this experiential knowledge saying, “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established in the morning; He will come to us like rain, like the latter and the former rain to the earth (Hosea 6:3).” This experiential knowledge was to encounter God not just have an understanding about an attribute of God. In this verse Hosea is describing the presence of the Lord like the rain. He comes to us like the refreshing and soaking rains. He revives us in His presence and brings healing through His living streams of water.

  1. We follow hard after God to demonstrate justification

We have been justified by faith and the evidence of this saving faith is an ongoing pursuit of Christ above all others. We are justified by faith, and it is demonstrated by our pursuit. Good works cannot produce faith, much like a seed cannot produce fruit without water and sun. Once the sun and water affect the seed, fruit is on its way.

Saving grace produces a desire for the pursuit of heavenly things. The work of God in the believer begins a desire for the Word of God and His presence. So often we misdirect our passion and try to pacify eternal longings with temporal fixes. The pursuit of God is the expression of the desire for God awakened by faith.

Philippians 3:9, The Passion Translation
My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own “righteousness” based in keeping the written Law. My “righteousness” will be his, based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—the very righteousness that comes from God.

  1. We follow hard after God to experience His resurrection life

We are yet perfected. The precious work of grace has begun, but is yet to be perfected. Daily I need to drink of His resurrection streams. Daily I need to experience His love. Daily I need to hear His voice. Pursuit of God is laying aside any weight or distraction to know Him and His resurrection.

Philippians 3:12, The Passion Translation
12 I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover.

Paul writes, “I admit that I haven’t yet acquired…” I haven’t arrived. There is still more to know and enjoy and delight in and be changed by. Resurrection life takes off the grave clothes, leaves the cemetery of despair, and walks in newness of life.

  1. We follow hard after God because He has made us His own

Christ Jesus has laid His hand upon you. He has made you His own. What a humbling honor that the creator has taken us out of the pit of this world, clothed us in His righteousness, and has laid His hand of anointing and calling upon us. He has made us kings and priests. He has set us apart for His plans and purposes. In the pursuit of God we discover more of who He has made us to be and more of how He has called us to live.

Philippians 3:12-13, The Passion Translation
12 I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover. 13 I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this;[a] however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead.

What delight in God do you still have to experience? What joy still remains for you? What promise has yet to be obtained? Pursue hard after God and find Him to be all you ever need. The pursuit will not end in broken promises and will not leave you wanting. Embarking the pursuit of God will satisfy every longing and desire. The pursuit of Him was what you were made for!

7 Realities About Suffering

The following is taken from the sermon, “Invincible, Irrefutable Joy: God’s Glory in Human Suffering.”

In the midst of life, we are faced with tragedy, hurt, hang ups, brokenness, loneliness, and suffering of all types. What is the response? What is the hope? How are we to find joy in God in the midst of suffering?

It is true that God’s greatest display of His greatness is redeeming fallen man. If redemption is the greatest display, then God is glorified the greatest in my life when I delight in Him the most. How does joy in God and suffering reconcile? We often think as joy and suffering as opposing agents.

In the midst of World War 2, a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer did much to train and equip pastors and the church during the tragedy of Hitler’s destruction in Germany. In one of his last letters to his seminarian brothers before his execution, Bonhoeffer penned this line: “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.”

Bonhoeffer goes on in the letter to state that, “It [joy] does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.”

Here 7 Realities to Find God’s Invincible, Irrefutable Joy:

  1. Suffering Comes in Many Ways

In fact, the Bible guarantees suffering. Throughout Scripture we see that troubles, persecution, trials—suffering will come. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trials will come, but in them all, God is our deliverer. Psalm 34:19, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”

  1. Suffering is to Happen within our Christian Community

Galatians 6:2 instructs us to “Bear one another’s burdens…,” and Hebrews 10:24 says to, “watch out for one another…” The Royal Law (James 2:8) written on our hearts results in a demonstration of compassion and care for our brothers and sisters. We were created to do life in God’s presence in the Body of Christ. The reality is that we need Him, and we need Him in the context of our spiritual family. We sharpen one another, and we provoke one another to good works.

  1. Suffering is Actually a Gift

In Philippians 1:29, Paul writes, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”  Wait! What?! We have been given the gift of faith to believe in Christ, and also, we have been given the gift of suffering for His sake. I am certain we do not always consider our present trials and troubles a gift. Paul had experienced many troubles for the Gospel, and He considered each of them a gift, knowing that “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Phil 1:12).” Knowing troubles are assured, and knowing they bring deeper delight in God, and knowing they are opportunities for the furtherance of the gospel, then let us prepare to suffer with even greater joy and even greater determination in the gospel demonstration. The gift of suffering perfects us and advances the gospel as we find our invincible, irrefutable joy in God. When facing troubles, know it is another opportunity to discover deeper delight in sweetness of our Savior.

  1. The Suffering Savior is our Example

Jesus, our Great Shepherd leads us along the journey through the mountains of triumph and the valleys of shadows and death. Whether in life or death I am more than victorious in Christ. “…So now also Christ will be magnified in my body whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21).” In other words, I’m satisfied, and He is glorified whether I live or I die.

Jesus is our example in suffering: Hebrews 12:2: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross”

Jesus is our example in temptation: Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus is our example in sickness and death: John 11:35, 40: “Jesus wept. Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’”

Jesus is our example in persecution: 1 Peter 2:21-23: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

  1. The Work of Suffering

Trials and troubles are a gift, and Jesus is our example of finding invincible, irrefutable joy in God through the suffering. As we delight in God, suffering has its work in our lives. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).” Command yourself to be in a place of joy. Refuse to live anywhere else, except the place of absolute invincible, irrefutable joy in God. It is in this place in God where perseverance is working its work of completion in you. A life delighting in God, no matter the landscape or season, can be found to be a life in which perseverance can have its way.

  1. The Secret to Enjoying the Sweetness of the Savior in Suffering

Paul writes in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” What was Paul’s secret to “knowing how to be” in all these circumstances? He tells us in Philippians 3:8, “Yet indeed I also count all things for loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” And in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We learn to discover the Savior’s sweetness when we can count anything outside of Christ as loss. Our difficulty is that we often hold things more valuable and of higher priority than Christ. Whether tangible things, or our own imaginations and ideas, we esteem them more highly than Jesus, and when trouble comes our value is shaken because what we hold dear has been shaken. To the one who has lost it all, yet has found the value of Jesus, has found something greater than any loss or suffering. To the one who has it all, yet has found the value of Jesus, has found the pearl of great price, worth selling all to have. I can walk thru any adversity with His joy, because His joy is my strength (Neh 8:10)!

  1. My Redeemer Lives!

As Job declared in the midst of adversity, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26).” No matter the loss, even to my skin wasting away as dust to dust in the ground, there will be a day when I see God in my flesh. As the old song says, “my faith shall be sight.” What I have known, and enjoyed, and found joy in will continue throughout the eternal ages. I have strength in this life, and I have a hope in eternal life!

When God Presses In

You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. Psalm 139:5, GNT

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5, ESV

What happens when God presses in upon you? What does life look like when the hand of God is upon you and He encircles you? The word picture here reminds me of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. Their enemy was behind them, the red sea in front of them. There were millions of people ready to be slaughtered by the Egyptian army. They were like helpless sheep waiting to be slaughtered by a prevailing army. God was pressing in upon the Israelites.

Some may view this as certain doom and despair, but God saw this as an opportunity for His glory to be shown in the earth and lives to be transformed. God encircled round about the Israelites. His fire protected them, and the breath of life parted the Red Sea. In His goodness He even dried up on the ground the Israelites would walk on so they would not sink in the mud.

The Lord, the Victorious one has gone before you. He stands as your rear guard and He leads onward as the conquering King. He has hemmed you in and has laid His hand upon you. What will you do now? Will you quit and give up at the first sign of trouble? Will you return to the Egyptian army hoping they will not slaughter you as they had been sent to do? Will you go back to the way things used to be, hoping for some sort of peace in slavery? Or like Moses and the millions of Israelites, will you move forward, deeper into the greater things of God?

God has even ensured that you will not sink into despair along the journey. The muddy path had become dry ground. Walking in God’s grace makes muddy paths become dry. He leads you into paths of righteousness. He places you on His highway of holiness. To turn to the right or to the left will guarantee quick sand in which you will surely sink into despair. But to remain on His path with His Word as your light and your direction, you cannot fail.

When God presses in upon you, in the natural you may see chaos and uncertainty; however, God sees provision, blessing, and growth. Your God-given assignment is only validated by the pressure. As wheat is threshed under great pressure, God separates the chaff from the wheat in your life through the weight of His hand upon you. Just as the olives are pressed for the abundance of oil to flow, God lays His hand upon you to press out what is within you.

It is during these moments we realize what inadequacies we have. As God encircles us we see His greatness and our lack, our vulnerability, our need. We see the uncrossable sea and the fierce army. God sees His power to deliver. God sees His promise being fulfilled. God is certain of His ability to do what He has promised in your life. He will use the enemy to bring about His plan. He used the Egyptian army to apply pressure. He used the army to reveal His power. He used the army to reveal the heart of man. He used the army to drive the Israelites forward. And when He was finished with the enemy, He brought down the waters of judgment upon them. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of God’s judgment. But, oh how wonderful it is to be in the hands of God’s grace. He has encircled me and laid His hand of grace and power upon me!

Jesus spoke of these wonderful hands. John 10:28: “No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Paul said it like this in Romans 8:31, 35: “If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

In the natural you may see the problem, but through the eyes of faith you will see His power upon you. It is foolish to kick against the goads. Saul learned the great lesson of God’s hemming when God’s glory shone about him, knocked him to the ground, and changed His life.

In what ways might God be hemming you in? Like the caterpillar, the hemming brings about a change to great beauty. Learn to rest in God’s sovereign hand. When the pressure comes, don’t resist His hand, but yield and rest in His power upon you. God is ‘round about you, and He has placed His hand upon you. Yield to God’s unchanging hand! Certainly, He will deliver you. Certainly, He has brought you to a place of victory. If you could only see what’s awaiting you on the other side of the Red Sea!

There’s an old song written in 1906 by Jennie Wilson that captures the eternal, unchanging nature of God’s hand upon you:

Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.

Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures,
They will never pass away.

When your journey is completed,
If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view

Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Advent and Why We Celebrate

Advent and Why We Celebrate

The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming, which comes from the Greek word parousia.

In the fourth and fifth centuries, Advent was a season of preparation for the celebration of Epiphany, a festival on January 6, commemorating God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to Jesus, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana. During the Advent season, Christians would spend 40 days in prayer, repentance, and fasting for the coming of Epiphany; originally, Advent was little connected to Christmas.

By the sixth century, Roman Christians tied Advent to the coming of Christ—but not His coming in a manger. Advent became a celebration of Christ’s second coming. It was during the Middle Ages that Advent was linked to Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem.

Today, Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The new Christian year begins with a 12-day celebration from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6.

The Church in these last days is much like the Israelites at the end of the Old Testament. We find ourselves, as it were, in exile in a foreign land, waiting with eager expectation of Christ’s second coming.

Advent combines the elements of remembrance and anticipation. We reflect and remember and we anticipate His second coming. To balance these elements, the first two Sundays of Advent look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays look backward to remember Christ’s first coming.

Though it may be challenging to keep in mind in the midst of holiday decorating and shopping, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting and reflection. One catechism describes Advent in this way: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming.”

Advent celebrates Christ’s coming as Emmanuel, God with us! Advent celebrates God’s coming in Acts 2 at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Advent celebrates and anticipates Christ’s soon return.

The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the four white candles were lit on Sundays. Eventually, the Advent wreath was created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and eternal life in Christ.

The most common Advent tradition involves four or five candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas and the fifth on Christmas Eve. We often think of Christmas colors of red, green, silver, and gold. However, these are not the common Advent celebration colors. Three of the four candles are purple or violet representing royalty and repentance. These three candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays. The third Sunday candle is pink, representing the joy of Advent. The fifth, a white candle, is lit on Christmas Eve, representing the purity and holiness of Christ and His birth. Oftentimes, the first candle is used to remind us of God’s creation and the forgiveness granted at the garden. The second candle reminds us of God’s incarnation. The third, represents the joy found in God’s covenant with David of an eternal seed and redemption from sin. The fourth, represents the second coming of Christ.

Why should believers make the Advent festival a family and church priority?

  1. Advent reminds us we are not the center of God’s plan

We are reminded throughout Scripture of God’s eternal plan. Romans 5:8 reminds us that while we were still sinners, enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us. Revelation unfolds the eternal portrait of redemption. Hebrews declares the mystery and revelation of this eternal plan throughout the ages. Continually we are reminded that we are included in this eternal plan, and are benefactors of it, but we are certainly not the main characters in the story.

  1. Advent reminds us of those who have gone before us

Hebrews 11 reminds us of the faith of many of those who have gone before us who by faith obtained a good testimony, but their faith is connected to ours (Heb 11:40). Many generations awaited the Messiah’s first coming. They endured hardships, were pilgrims in exile, were persecuted. Advent reminds us of their faith and humbles us to see God’s plan of the ages unfolding. We are reminded to endure with longsuffering in an evil age.

  1. Advent reminds us to reflect

In the hustles and bustle of holidays, we are reminded to slow down, remember and celebrate. The end of the year is not about gift giving and decorations, but so much more. We remember the ages of prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. We remember the covenant of God with David for an eternal seed. We remember the generations that awaited the Messiah’s appearing. We remember Simeon and Anna who eagerly awaited the Messiah in the temple. We remember Christ’s coming in a manger and that God came into His creation. We remember Christ’s ministry on earth and His heavenly ministry today. We remember the prophecies concerning Christ’s second coming. We remember who He has called us to be.

  1. Advent reminds us of Christian discontentment

Christ’s coming, crucifixion, and resurrection would have been enough—more than enough, but He gives so much more and calls us to hunger and thirst after Him. It is our blessing to cultivate and nurture our desire for Him. There is a longing in our hearts for His second coming. There is a longing for Him to reveal Himself to us in Scripture and in our worship. Creation is groaning for this revelation (Ro 8:23). The martyrs cry out, “how long, O Lord” (Rev 6:10). Jesus blessed hunger and thirsting for righteousness in the beatitudes. Advent encourages our holy discontentment.

  1. Advent encourages us in the promises of God

As we reflect on God’s promises and His answers of the past, we are able to have great anticipation for what He will do ahead of us. We have confidence in His promise of His soon return and thus we are inspired to evangelize, to continue on in our fellowship together and brotherly love, and willing to endure suffering with great joy. Advent reminds us that as God has met many others in the unfolding of His eternal plan, He also will meet us today. He truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)